Monday, August 30, 2010

Unfinished pastels from Monday drawing class

"Moroccan Vase and Apples"

"Bob's Cowboy Hat"

Seems like we seldom get to really finish our pastels in class, which runs for 3 hours. With setup time, instruction, and then working on our pieces, time flies. I would have finished the vase piece today after arriving home, but Bob Semans wants us to bring this piece to class after Labor Day and work on it again. The cowboy hat was done just before leaving town for Chicago, so it languished in my art room.

Bob has about 5 students who are old faithfuls who have attended class for more than a couple years. We get to work somewhat independently while Bob gives instruction to the newer students. This class is held in an art store classroom and is open enrollment. Thus on any given Monday we could have new students. This morning, two very nice women joined us. Over the years we have seen many people start, but few continue for more than a couple months. Probably there are all kinds of reasons why people leave, one of which could be lack of patience to put in the time required to learn to draw well.

Our experienced group likes to request a critique at the end of the class, so Bob obliges us. This time he opened up comments from everyone and asked people to overcome the fear of saying something could be improved, noting we don't learn from pure praise. I was rewarded this morning by Bob's comment that in many ways my piece was the most successful because I managed to sort out the values. That was not without his help midway when he pointed out some problem areas for me to work on, the beauty of having a very good instructor. I was then able to dig into those areas and improve the piece considerably.

A friend says our subjects are boring. Bob's goal is not to have us produce finished pieces for framing. He wants us to learn to draw accurately and model form. I'm okay, because my goals agree with Bob's. I can take what I learn and apply them to my personal art.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Small sketch for possible show piece


Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Association' Annual Member show is coming right up. The title is "Alternate Realities." I have a number of different ideas of what I would like to paint, and this is one of them. I recalled my pregnant mom, later a mother of seven, being totally surprised to learn that my fourth grade teacher at St. Monica's School was her former college roommate, who, by the way, was not a Catholic when my mother knew her at the University of Vermont. These women chose to live very different lives.

I am fairly satisfied with Mom (who is a fictional mom), but Sister Claire needs some work and more lost edges! Drawing from imagination is always a challenge. I like how I abstracted the background. Before I decide to paint the final piece , I will try a few more ideas I have, harking back to fractured poppies and the yellow line exercise. I'm also musing about a collage. I have a few fallback pieces I painted this past year, if I don't succeed at a new piece. I could have entered the poppies, but I sold the painting at Open Studios.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Amtrak Series: A Room with a View

"Illinois Prairie"

"Early Morning in Eastern Colorado"

"Colorado River, Western Colorado"

"Utah Sunrise"

"River in the Nevada Desert"

The Amtrak California Zephyr that runs between Chicago and Emeryville, California, goes through parts of 7 states. Five years ago Bob and I took the Zephyr from west to east. This reunion prompted us to do a reverse of our earlier trip, which enabled us to ride through the Colorado Rockies. Five years ago track work detoured us north to Wyoming and we entered Denver from the East. The Rockies are not to be missed. I always feel like I am traveling across a map on the train and I recalled fond memories of our bicycle ride across the USA in 2008.

As we left Chicago we passed through the suburbs and then into the wide open spaces of the Illinois prairie. My first journal sketch, Illinois Prairie, is a synthesis of views from the window of our roomette. We crossed the wonderful wide Mississippi into Burlington, Iowa. By this time it was dusk and we traversed most of Iowa and part of Nebraska at night in the rain. We awakened in Eastern Colorado, where farther south on our bicycle ride we spent a night in Haswell (pop. 84) in the town park when we got hit with a fierce electrical storm on the prairies after riding through 100+ degree heat and blinding sun. Early Morning in Eastern Colorado depicts the view we had from the lounge car after breakfast as the sun began breaking through the clouds over the barren prairie.

After a stop in Denver to switch out engines and crew and clean and supply the train, we continued on. Soon we were climbing the mighty Rockies on switchbacks and passed through 29 tunnels built to maintain a 2% grade for the train. Colorado River, Western Colorado, was a lovely scene viewed from the lounge car.

We were running behind schedule because we were delayed leaving Chicago due to a mechanical issue with one car and having to run slowly over recently flooded tracks in Iowa. We are reminded that nature is really in control. Thus we entered Utah in the dark and I did not awaken when we stopped in Salt Lake City. As our second morning dawned, we were heading west across the gorgeous desert lands in Utah. We were treated to a Utah Sunrise, which started out quite muted and became more colorful as the sun rose.

We were now on our final run into California. The barren landscape was cut by a rushing River in the Nevada Desert as we raced through Nevada, making up our lost time in the schedule. We pulled into Reno where the town invested huge sums of money to dig a trench for the trains so that traffic wasn't stopped every time a train went through town. Next, we traversed the lovely Sierras where we traveled through snow sheds and over track beds that were built by Chinese workers. I was enjoying the scenery instead of painting. We stopped in Sacramento, home of a marvelous railroad museum. On to Davis and then into Emeryville, the train arrived early. From there we took the Capitol Corridor to San Jose, and bus 68 to our home. My trip will be relived each time I view my Canson journal sketches, done with 3 small brushes on 10" x 7" paper using 7 tube paints loaded into a tiny Holbein palette.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the sketchbook -- A Room With a View: Chicago

"A Room with a View: In the Loop, Chicago"

We flew to Chicago for Bob's high school reunion. We spent the first several days staying in the heart of the Loop downtown. The area is defined by the elevated railway tracks that encircle this section. Our room looked down on a piece of the "El" that is seen in the lower left. Early one morning the sun was making the most interesting patterns on the buildings, so I snapped a photo and then drew and painted the scene. We are using lots of public transit to take in the sights.

I now have a 40-sheet Canson watercolor journal to contain my travel sketches. As we complete our visit and head home via Amtrak, I plan to capture some of the scenes of our beautiful country as they flash by my window.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Vermont Painting

"Vermont Mud Season"
14" X 18"

In my home state of Vermont, a couple weeks in the spring are known as "mud season." The snow is dirty and beginning to melt. The hundreds of miles of dirt roads, the unpaved driveways, the farm roads, and anyplace lacking asphalt turns into a soupy mess. The neat thing about mud season is it signals that the long snowy winter is almost over. You can check out Vermont Mud Season on Google and find many stories and pictures. Here is a link to a fun picture and story that will give you a feel for what I painted.

My painting is an imaginary scene, from my recollections of mud seasons past, started as my very first painting in Tom Fong's class. Without drawing any lines on totally wet paper, he showed us how he created a simple piece with a tree, some mountains and a house. We were instructed to do something similar. So I conjured up mud season. The class was fast-moving and I was busy being assistant coordinator, so I didn't get to finish the painting in class. Last night our Thursday night South Side Art Club met at Penny's house and I put the finishing touches, to bring order from chaos, as Tom describes his preferred process.

To create his tree and house, Tom used a single-edge razor to squeegee the paint from the paper for the trunk and the buildings from the wet paper. That is why you see some green in the roofs of my buildings because I was totally inexperienced at this process. When the paper dried enough, I added color to the buildings. I had added some color to the trunk and painted in some of the branches. I had left some open edges, thinking about adding light to the tree. Last night I created more branches and used orange to suggest light on the tree. I added a dark treeline where the mountain meets the flatter land. Next I painted a few more strokes of color to create the muddy snow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Plein Air at Villa Montalvo

"Villa Montalvo Gardens"
10" x 14"

Lately, with travel and family visiting, I haven't done plein air painting with the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society. This morning I convinced myself I could work this into the schedule. We went to beautiful Villa Montalvo, where I had painted once in 2008, on one of my first plein air adventures after retiring. This morning started out with our usual early morning overcast, but by 10 the sun was shining and Sylvia, one of our leaders, and I headed for the Italianate Gardens. There were many child artists painting, so I selected a quite spot in the back garden. I was attracted to the strong diagonals created by the old Live Oak that shaded one corner of the beautiful garden structure. The tree was at the edge of a thickly wooded area. Greens are always a challenge, but I felt I added enough variety to keep them interesting. I included a few of the dry landscape plants -- would you believe that the one on the left is a huge "Chicken and Hen" plant.

Back in 2008, the weather was cold, almost Christmas, with some mist and light rain. But we Extreme Artists are a tough bunch! (Maybe not quite as hardy as Turner, who is said to have had himself lashed to the mast of sailing ship to experience the storms that he so loved to paint.) Here is the painting of the Villa from 2008, backed by the foggy Santa Cruz Mountains:

"Christmas at Villa Montalvo"
10" x 14"

The Villa has a fascinating history and is situated in the hills of upscale Saratoga. From the website:
Montalvo Arts Center was previously known as Villa Montalvo, a historic landmark built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan (1861-1930). Phelan, a passionate Californian who had been a three-term progressive mayor of San Francisco, went on to become California's first popularly-elected U.S. Senator. Villa Montalvo was Senator Phelan's favorite home and a center of artistic, political and social life in Northern California. Phelan invited leading writers and artists to Villa Montalvo to work on individual artistic projects in an environment rich in dialogue and fellowship. Jack London, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Douglass Fairbanks, and Edwin Markham were among Phelan's many guests.

You can read about the modern day art center that carries on the tradition with residencies for artists and venues for music and theater arts. The public is welcomed onto the grounds without charge.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday Drawing Class - Portrait

12" x 14"
Pastel on colored paper

Today we returned to drawing a person. Rea, a lovely fellow classmate from the Netherlands, agreed to sit for us. Bob first demoed how he would go about painting her in pastel. We've seen him doing this before, but I always refine my knowledge. Bob first blocked in the shapes without taking any measurements. He carefully noted the tilt of her head and bisected the egg-shaped oval of the head with its midpoint. He drew lines perpendicular at a 90 degree angle to the bisecting line where he judged the eyebrows, eyes, nose, and mouth to be located. Then he began to measure using the dowel stick and refined the drawing. Pretty much Bob was spot on. He blocked in the darks using charcoal. Next he applied skin-tone pastels to the broad planes of the face. Then he began to refine the various planes, dividing light and shadow. He did not want to consume our time so he left his painting incomplete.

Now, it was our turn. I learn through note-taking, so I referred back to my notes and repeated his process. When he checked the drawings, he made one correction to where the leading edge of the nose was positioned and modified the mouth. I actually feel accomplished when Bob has to correct just one or two things! The piece was partially finished when the three-hour class ended. This evening, I completed the piece from memory, a real test of what I know about the planes of the face. Though I had brought my camera, I didn't get a photo before Rea moved. We will not return to this piece in the next class, so I am declaring it done enough to move on.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tom Fong-Inspired Fall Scene

"September Morning, Vermont"
21" x 15"

September mornings in Vermont vary between clear sun and crisp air with frost on the ground, and cool mist that softens the landscape. On this misty morn, color tinges the foliage, a few bright red leaves adorn trees, rust and gold emerge on the lush late summer foliage. Shapes are muted and the edges of the path softly blend with the meadow grasses. Soon the fall leaves will bring fiery beauty to the mountains, but this September morning dampens the skin and quietly surrounds on a morning walk.

This piece had it's start in Tom Fong's class. He encouraged us to paint as many pieces as we could between demos. I finished the work at my Thursday evening South Side Art Club and added a few finishing touches early this morning to bring order to chaos, as Tom describes the process. I lifted out a few lights and added a few splatters to the red leaves. I painted wet-into-wet for all but a few of the grasses and branches.

The nice thing about Tom's method is you can look at reference materials, pick some shapes, and then tap into your memories. Jeanne Rousseau handed me a photo, perhaps from Oregon? I turned a stream into a path (a suggestion from Don and Alison, some of my Thursday artists, as I neared completion), used a couple trees and my personal color scheme to represent Vermont, where I grew up and visit often. I always take a long walk about 6 a.m.

I am synthesizing what I have learned over the years and in recent workshops. Some of my shape-making, boldness, and color choices were honed in the Stephen Quiller workshop in April. You can reference the description of that workshop here. Gerald Brommer's workshop on collage emerges in abstract shapes and the play of varying textures. (Myrna Wacknov recently featured Brommer's Santa Cruz workshop on her blog - awesome.) Willingness to experiment and be bold was influenced by Betsy Dillard Stroud's workshop. My work continues to evolve.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Monday Drawing Class: Pears and a Basket

"Pears and a Basket"
14" x 12"
Pastel on colored paper

Monday drawing class emphasized modelling forms. The most difficult part of this piece is the linen napkin. I admire the ability of Peggy Stermer-Cox to model draped fabrics. Check out her daily drawings. Bob Semans, our instructor, always says that modeling in the midtone value range is the most challenging. Today I spent a little time cleaning up edges and working the shadows a bit more.

Bob says the object of our class is to learn to draw well, not to produce frameable art work. Occasionally I do produce one that I will mat for sale, but very few. This piece is not one of them, but I learned more about what I do and don't know .

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tom Fong Workshop: Day 3 of "Watercolor Bold and Spontaneous"

"High on a Hill ... in San Francisco"
15" x 20 "

Instructor Tom Fong's Partially Complete Demo
Coit Tower, San Francisco

First, apologies for somewhat crooked photos of the paintings -- best can do with my primative process. My piece is also missing about an inch on the right side. I failed to get a photo of Tom's finished cityscape.

On the final day of Tom's workshop, I was especially busy and we finished early so our wonderful volunteer setup and takedown crew can do their job at the Historic Hoover Theater where we rent space. I was busy with the assistant coordinator duties, which include ordering and fetching lunch for the instructor and some attendees, setting out the hospitality table items for morning and afternoon, cleanup, and fulfilling Tom's request to set up a raffle for end of day. I got to mostly complete one painting. Most folks did two.

Tom is very good about asking for feedback each day and inviting requests. Some of his work is city scenes, so we asked him to do one. They are more time consuming, because they require some drawing. Tom used a light grey paint to draw the Coit tower scene with his No. 8 round brush on dry paper. Using a stock photo, he created his own impression of the city. The buildings are neither duplicates nor as dense as in the photo. They are representative of the block shapes so common in San Francisco. Even Coit Tower was modeled mostly from memory. He began applying paint, starting with yellow, to selected buildings. He wet the paper as needed. Notice how Tom lets the paint flow across lines and below buildings. He then came in with darks, creating the Cypress trees around the tower and interspersing darks with lights. Some of the landscape is suggested with bold brush strokes of color that he repeatedly modifies. The finished piece included shadows on the buildings, and paint on the Bay and in the sky area. Tom left some white in both. Tom's work shows the influence of his friend, Henry Fukuhara, a wonderful artist who died this year at 96 , painting to the end in spite of losing his sight. Use Google to check out images of Henry's work.

We were in San Francisco on Wednesday with my son's family, showing my teenage granddaughters this lovely city, so the sights, shapes, and colors of the city were fresh in my mind. I selected a photo of the skyline that includes the Transamerica Building (the pyramid shape). I made up the curvy downhill street and following Tom's example, created shapes in the foreground. You can see my grey drawing lines. The piece was sopping wet and incomplete at critique time. Tom said the painting is successful. His suggestions included adding shadows and not to represent every window on the buildings, which I very well know and forget when I get caught up in the process. This morning, I put in the shadows and softened some edges, and some windows. This is a very fun way to do city scenes and I will do more.

On the first day Tom also demoed doing florals in his loose and wet approach, which I didn't get time to tackle. That will be next, and then I will show you his demo and my results. I want to make some of my knowledge more intuitive (I believe intuition has a lot of learning and experience behind it). While painting I must remember to keep some white passages if I deem them appropriate, to lead the eye through the painting, and alternate lights and darks. Of course, the darks make parts of the painting really pop, so I can't be timid.

Tom is very generous and stated that he's been fortunate and does not worry about making a living from his art. He raffled off two nice brushes, three sets of paint, and his first demo painting, a real treasure for the winner.